review by Selma Carvalho
Review of the book followed by author profile and buying information.
The facts of the case are these: It is a crime thriller set in Goa. The dead body of 19 year-old student, Namita Kulkarni, has washed ashore on Morjim beach. Almost immediately, in Guy Maupassant style, a cast of characters present themselves on stage. There is the upright small-town policeman, Inspector Cajetan (Caji) Pinto, and his bumbling side-kick Joao. There is the abrasive politician Arun Kamat and his dodgy son, Amit, who in better times, had been romantically involved with the victim. There is the counterweight to Caji, the corrupt policeman, Peter Fernandes, who thinks nothing of implicating innocent people while trying to clean up a politician’s ugly mess. There is Caji’s love interest, the hapless Roselda, who conveniently happens to be the daughter of the local newspaper’s editor and font of inadmissible hearsay, Sebastian D’Souza. There is Namita’s confidante Asiya Sheikh, and Namita’s apathetic father Shirish, a good old-fashioned bigoted casteist, who forbids Namita’s relationship with Amit.
For those acquainted with Goa, all of this seems unnervingly familiar. The image of a girl’s body being washed ashore immediately brings to mind the Scarlett Keeling case. The involvement with a politician’s son too has a ring of familiarity. A few years ago, the salacious details of a romantic liaison between a prominent politician’s son and an underage girl became all too public with a lot of back-pedaling to cover it up.
The writer is giving us a side-glance into Goan society. There are important issues here that she flags up in the guise of fiction, those of corrupt officials and the unhealthy nexus between Goa’s police and its polity. Her writing reflects, too, the changing demographics of Goa, a change which a writer of her generation would have experienced up-close. Her plot is peopled with Hindus, Muslims and Christians. While Hindus and Christians have previously populated Goan writing in close proximity, sometimes as counterpoints to each other, the appearance of a Muslim character is rare. Yet in this narrative, the victim’s closest friend and college-mate is a Muslim. This is a nod to the slow but sure assimilation of new cultures (and friendships) into Goa’s mono-chromatic landscape.
On almost every page are tiny details casually strewn which are instantly recognisable to a Goan. From Caji’s fondness for ros omelette with extra ros, to Sebastian being a collector of Indo-Portuguese furniture, to the shack-lined littoral landscape with its desultory live bands entertaining tourists.
Crime is not an easy genre to master although its basic anatomy remains the same in all plots. There is a cast of suspects. There are red herrings to be planted by the writer and unearthed by the reader. There is a build-up of tension and its sudden release. There is a climatic ending which reveals the perpetrator and a denouement which wraps up the loose ends. The perpetrator has to be subtly introduced into the plot much before the ending, so that when they are unmasked, the reader is surprised but not left feeling cheated.
Dias displays a deft hand at, at least a few of the tricks of the craft. She graphs rising arches of tension and releases them. She plants red herrings and resolves them. She arouses suspicion and injects possible motives before jettisoning them. The ending is fairly dramatic but it leaves the reader feeling they've travelled a long road and come to a divergence which leads to a totally unexpected and unnecessary cliff. There should have been foreshadowing of this resolution long before its revelation. The plot overall remains thin as do the characters who require more fleshing out.
Nothing gives me more pleasure in the writing world than to discover a fresh, new Goan talent. Writers have the ability to grow exponentially once they put their minds to it. Tanya is one such writer with potential, waiting to be polished, with the years ahead spent adding depth and craft to her writing. We wish her success.
Tanya Dias grew up amidst the serenity of Dona Paula, Goa. She showed an early inclination to write, precociously penning her first short story at the age of eight. Her mother encouraged her aptitude for creative writing. At 14, Tanya participated in a national creative writing competition, and much to her surprise, won the top prize from amongsts hundreds of participants. She was awarded the National Balshree Award by the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, at the time the president of India. It was to be a life-changing moment.
In 2013, Tanya was awarded an excellence scholarship by the London School of Economic and Political Science, to pursue her master’s degree in London. Around this time, a man named Oslyn moved to the city. He would become her husband and London would become their home.
The Secret of the Sea (2017) was born on a train. Tanya had been reading a crime thriller set in London. She was impressed with how the writer had drawn on the city – its streets, its shops – to create an atmospheric telling of the story. This prompted her to write a book which incorporated the familiar geographical and cultural topography of her own childhood. She wanted to create a plot which was fast-paced and thrilling. Drawing on political and environmental events in Goa, she conceptualised the novel within minutes. From there on, it took her a little over a month to finish it. She first decided on the exact nature of the crime and how it would unfold, and then worked on her characterisation.
Her next book is tentatively titled, This Journey Called Life, a romantic thriller about a young girl who has to fulfil someone else’s last wish. The Secret of the Sea can be purchased here.